It’s been almost a year since I read Tony Dungy’s book “The Mentor Leader.” It’s the type of book that immediately inspires you to take action. I made several immediate changes in my life based on his very sensible perspective on mentor leadership. Tony Dungy laid out this perspective using practical examples from his life, which made it easy for me to apply.
Not so coincidentally, shortly after I finished this book, I began evaluating my life and career and as a result began using my nights and weekends to turn a product I invented years before into the foundation of a tech startup.
Now, as a first time startup founder, I see a unique opportunity for me to serve as a mentor leader. Surprisingly, the leadership experiences and growth opportunities for a first time startup founder are very similar to that of a first time NFL head coach. It is especially similar to a head coach who takes over a last place team, like Tony Dungy did in 1996 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Dungy ultimately took the Bucs from worst to first, and went on to become a prolific Super Bowl winning head coach and iconic leader. Subsequently, his experience, wisdom, and advice extend beyond the 40 yard line and easily lend itself to startup leadership. For that reason I now have four of his mentor leader quotes posted on the wall of my proverbial “locker room.” These quotes are what all startup founders, most importantly first timers, should carefully consider as they attempt to win their personal Super Bowl: scaling their company to a successful exit and/or disrupting an industry forever.
So without further ado, here are the four Tony Dungy leadership quotes that all startup founders should live by:
Book Quote 1: On Character
“Integrity is part of character. In fact, it’s the biggest part. If you have integrity, that’s going to impact everything you do and make you a person of high character. But character is all-encompassing. Are you going to help others be better? Are you hardworking, someone who will persevere through tough times? Are you a person who’s going to put the team first, ahead of your individual goals? These are facets of character that are separate from integrity.”
Book Quote 2: On Knowing Your Strengths
“Marcus Buckingham, in his book Now, Discover Your Strengths, speaks of the importance of knowing our strengths. Too much attention is paid to our weaknesses, he contends, so that we often don’t take full advantage of the things we are naturally good at or pursue the things we are naturally inclined toward. He says that instead of spending so much time working on our weaknesses, or on things we aren’t naturally gifted to do, we should surround ourselves with people whose strengths complement our weaknesses”
Book Quote 3: On Different Styles of Leadership
“Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard pioneered an understanding of ‘situational leadership’ when they were studying organizational behavior in the 1970s. Their research studies are straightforward and important to understand. Hersey and Blanchard discovered that different styles of leadership—telling, selling, participating, and delegating – are appropriate at different times, depending on the audience (those we lead) and the situation.”
Book Quote 4: On Servant Leadership
“Humble servant leadership demonstrates to those you lead that you see them as valuable, and it’s worth your time to serve them—not to have them serving you. It’s a path that flips the world’s model upside down: leaders who serve—not just when it’s convenient, neat, and acceptable, but when it’s timely, needed and right. Jesus, through his actions showed us that servant leadership isn’t theoretical lip service…What can you do in your organization to ‘wash the feet’ of the people you lead? What do you suppose they would do after that experience?”